Category Archives: eco-tourism


Witchcraft is deeply embedded in Sierra Leonean spiritual traditions.  Rituals often include a devil dancer who pays homage to those who have passed on. Ancestors are thought to be able to intervene, advise, help, or punish enemies.  Not only do some believe the deceased may return as harmful spirits, they even believe a witch or sorcerer has the power to transform the living into animals or inanimate objects.

John Obey is filled with a supernatural vibe.  There’s an energy in the air, especially at night when the only light is that of cooking fires and candlelight. Faces I’m so familiar with during the day reflect a different light in the darkness- a bit of the occult perhaps. Given their vulnerability and belief in the paranormal, this little village provides the perfect backdrop for a sorcerer, A.K.A. a scam artist, to make a tidy profit.

One day a cell phone went missing from the solar shack where we charge up our electronic gadgets.  The next morning during our post-breakfast meeting, Filippo asked if the guilty party would please return the phone to a bin he placed behind the loos and no questions would be asked.  Sadly, that night, the phone did not make its way home.  The next morning, two of the local village managers suggested they bring in the big guns, the sorcerer!  Well, that got my attention.

After the meeting, Hooman and I sat at the breakfast table talking about the sorcerer.  I asked him what to expect.  According to Hooman (A2H), our resident earth-bag architect, the sorcerer is a powerful man in the area whom people fear.  He charges a whopping Le200,000 (US $50) for his professional services. A2H, the sorcerer would  come to the village and gather everyone in a circle.  He would announce that a phone had been stolen and there would be dire consequences for the guilty party if they did not confess by sunset.  The consequences?  A2H, the sorcerer would walk around the circle locking eyes with each of the villagers and with a booming ominous voice predict, “If the thief does not return the cell phone before sunset (eyes bulging and a pause for dramatic effect) they will be turned into a… a…(long pause building even more drama)….a rat!”  Hooman, went on to act out the trembling thief immediately dropping to his knees, hands together, wailing in a high pitched voice, “Oh god no! Please!  Please! Don’t turn me into a rat!”

Although the sorcerer was paid his Le200,000 he never came.  Who’s the real rat, eh?

photo of a 3' John Obey rat courtesy of the very brave Noah Balmer




Mother of three boys and cook for Tribewanted, Yenken works from sunup to late in the evening. She’s a single mom and not by choice.  Over a year ago when she was pregnant with Mohammed, her husband was killed in an automobile accident.  Since property passes to the husband’s family, she and the children were forced to move from their village and ended up with friends in John Obey.

Yenken at home

When Tribewanted kicked off its eco-tourism project in the village, Yenken  landed her job with Tribewanted which has changed her life dramatically.  She is now able to provide for her children and built a small home from some of the unused materials at Tribewanted.  She also just received her first ever micro-loan through Salone Microfinance Trust (SMT).  With the Le500,000 (US $125) from SMT, she plans to tarp her house to keep it dry and will use the rest of the money to stockpile palm oil for the rainy season when she hopes to sell it for a higher price.

Oosman, Mohammed, Yenken & Momo

Yenken was eager to show me her new home in the village.  It’s a mud structure framed with sticks and has a tin roof.  There’s no furniture and she sleeps together with her children on blankets stretched across the dirt floor.  To most it wouldn’t seem like much of a house at all, but it’s quite the rarity to find a Sierra Leonean woman who has her own home.

nearing nap time for Mohammed


There’s so much that has been accomplished since I left Tribewanted in October; two eco-domes have gone up; there’s clean water coming from the well; the first harvest has taken place from the mandala; the school received a donation of desks for the children;  and many visitors have come and had their lives changed.  The word is getting out and local school groups are coming to the village to learn about sustainable living, solar power, permaculture and earth-bag buildings.

maybe a car, too?

The title of this post is the lyrics from “Gilligan’s Island,” the popular sitcom from the Sixties. The song just popped into my head as I was thinking about the next  hut the crew is just beginning. This one will be mine & Cally’s, another firstfooter and good friend from London!  I’ll be  there to photograph the progress and with luck, be able to sleep in it before I leave!  I never thought I’d own a thatched roofed bamboo hut on a lagoon a la “Gilligan’s Island,” but I will soon be sitting on the front porch and enjoying the view. Can’t wait to share it with you!

I am off to London next week for a quick reunion with other tribe members, and then back to Sierra Leone for a month.  My plan is to continue documenting the village but want also to get out and  explore the surrounding area and write a bit.  I will be going to see my friends at Connaught Hospital in Freetown whom I met on my first trip in 2009.  My son, Nick, will be joining me in February for what I know will be an eye opening and wonderful experience for him. So much to see and share!  Looking forward to seeing everyone in the UK and Sierra Leone and will be sharing photos and stories soon.

Here’s the latest video courtesy of Tribewanted. We were sad to leave and James was looking for a cold beer.